David was one of the most important contemporary therapists in the field of couples and sex therapy. He died unexpectedly on 8.10.2020 at the age of 74 at his home in Evergreen, Colorado, USA, surrounded by his family, probably from a heart attack.
I first met David in 2006 in Zurich at a workshop at the Institute for Ecological – Systemic Therapy, whose founder, Jürg Willi, was his friend, and was impressed by his differentiation-based approach and his way of working, which he repeatedly showed in live demonstrations of therapy sessions with couples in the workshops. In the last years of his work he further developed his Crucible Approach into Crucible Neurobiological Therapy, integrating insights from modern brain research and new tools such as working with visualisations and dialogues with antagonists, also in the context of trauma.
He had a special gift to build up a high emotional intensity and to touch people, both the clients and us therapists. At the same time he was always deeply honest, appreciative and respectful in his basic attitude towards people.
This inner attitude was nourished by a deep conviction that there is a best version of oneself in every human being, which he addressed and supported in order to help this part to stand up and take over leadership of the persons actions.
He had an incredibly sharp mind and eye for context and could see how people think and function. This is what he called “mind mapping”. He could help them see themselves more clearly, reflect on this and show them the different steps and possibilities for change.
He had an incredible overview and was able to think through and anticipate, almost like a world chess champion, different ways the client could react to different therapy steps and their further consequences. He remained incredibly flexible in his interventions and reactions and at the same time always half a step behind the clients in order to accompany them appropriately step by step. His confrontations were sometimes very hard, but always carried by benevolence and appreciation that even in people who do disgusting, cruel and vicious things, there is a best version of them, that could rise.
He was also able to work successfully with extremely manipulative and controlling clients. Sometimes he did this in a sporting, humorous and playful way, sometimes stern and serious, but always supported by a basic approach and appreciative commitment, which he called “collaborative alliance”. Sometimes the greatest heartfelt service to people was to mirror the dark, unsparing truth and to set boundaries.
He did not believe in abstinence and neutrality of therapists, like many colleagues working analytically or systematically. He believed that as a therapist, it is important to maintain one’s own evaluative and classifying view of things and to act accordingly, even if this is not always popular with clients and colleagues.
He was not afraid to dive into the darkest abysses with the clients and to endure many emotional tensions together with them in order to help them. When someone left after long, intensive therapy sessions with a changed, solved history, he rejoiced with the clients and called this often clearly visible and lasting effect in their faces “brightening”.
He was particularly endearing because of his wonderful sense of humour in all things, his infectious laughter and his constant approachability and responsiveness.
David wrote 5 books which have been translated into 6 languages and gave numerous workshops and training seminars. Nationally and internationally, he has published numerous newspaper articles, made appearances on radio and television, and received the highest professional awards and honours from professional associations in his field in the USA.
This success never went to his head and he kept his feet on the ground. He pursued his personal vision of wanting to help people. To alleviate the suffering of even one child through his actions, who would then grow up with personally more mature and peaceful parents, gave him meaning in life. He worked obsessively for this and was of almost untiring energy, which only flowed in somewhat calmer channels in his last years. We often teased him when his eyes gleamed with verve during the lunch break, when he talked passionately and forgot to treat his body to something to eat. He didn’t really need breaks, but he had learned that many other people liked them.
He loved his family, his wife Ruth, his daughter Sarah and his brother Steve and many other people with his incredibly big heart. He loved nature, especially the mountains, and “outdoor activities” like hiking, camping and skiing. Buddhism inspired him a lot. He was a spiritual person as well as a very pragmatic and grounded one.
He was one of the people and teachers who influenced me the most in my life. I had the honour, after addressing him at the Wilhelm Reich Congress in Berlin in 2007, to accompany his workshops in Northern Germany as an organiser and participant in the following years until his death in 2020, and I learned a lot from him. He opened my eyes to a clearer, not always pleasant view of people. He was a truly great man and will remain unmatched in his uniqueness as a person and as a therapist. I miss him very much.
Rest in peace, David. You are gone, but your vision lives on